Icons Among Us: The Future of Jazz played a couple of weeks back during the wonderful Seattle International Film Festival, but I wanted to note it here in case it returns to local theaters or becomes available in video form.
SIFF’s world premiere of Icons Among Us brought a humungous crowd to Seattle theater The Egyptian this past Saturday evening, which blew the mind of the guy sitting next to me, who wonders where the hell all these people are at the shows he lovingly attends at our local landmark Jazz Alley.
The legendary long-running club will probably be getting much more action now, as Icons is an enchanting invitation for the neophyte, and telling from the whoops and hollers of many of the audience, a convincing assessment on the what’s been going on in the musical field for the past few years as well.
Directed by Michael Rivoira, Lars Larson, and Peter J. Voigt, who appeared on stage with the film’s veteran executive producer John Comerford (High Times, Hallam Foe), this superbly edited documentary is a gleaming hall of mirrors reflecting the energies and philosophies that have been evolving jazz since the post-fusion period of the 80s. It’s made up of four episodes of a series that would extend Ken Burns’ traditionalist series on PBS into the truly contemporary.
Tapping the wisdom of sagely demigods like an underground picador Wayne Shorter (who views the current economic hot mess as a good way to shake out the poseurs and the true bloods to get more creative) and a philosopher-king Wynton Marsalis (keeping the hope of jazz history alive through the ambitious Jazz at Lincoln Center, after winning a Pulitzer in music), among many others.
The scenes of transcendent improvisational playing peel and buzz away before you moment by moment as the film progresses, toggling between the Eden of jazz, Congo Square in New Orleans (represented by sterling representatives like Stanton Moore and Donald Harrison) to the fresh mutations of emerging jamband skronk. (Jambands and jazz? Bound to happen, I guess, though these kids seem a little heavy on the beats.)
There is unexpected conflict and controversy in this contemporary tale, as when pianist Robert Glasper criticizes playing coming from Northern Europe as devoid of the passion American jazz is stewed from, inside churches and as a blues-based part of marginalized American lives. And the crowd at the Egyptian seemed a little put off by the percussive experimentalism of Norwegian keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft in the last round of performances, but I immediately wanted to see a full performance and buy all his CDs featuring such rhythmically progressive work.
Being able to see this multi-layered view of the current and coming jazz scene with the filmmakers and members from the DaKAH Hip Hop Chamber Orchestra, the latter rocking Neumos up the street big time after the film’s premiere, is going to be one of my most exciting memories of the Seattle International Film Festival 2009.